photography composition

photography composition – getting down lower for a better perspective

It’s a bit of a cliche perhaps, seeing a photographer on the ground, laying on his side, or sprawled on the ground. What might look like a strange form of attention-seeking, is actually a very solid way of improving your composition with full-length portraits. The lazy temptation is to just stand there, camera to the eye, and take the photograph. What happens then (usually), is that the photographer is shooting down on the subject. The best advice generally, is to step back for full-length compositions. When you shoot down on someone, especially with a wider angle lens, is that the perspective distortion cause the feet to appear much smaller, and your subject’s head to be disproportionally larger.

With a longer focal length, such as used in this outdoors portrait of Elle, perspective distortion is less of a concern. The lens was zoomed to around 135mm, and that means her head and feet are equidistant to the camera. No distortion. (By the way, this was taken during a photography workshop at my studio.)

However, if you, as the photographer, take the photo just standing at full height, then you are still shooting down, and you’re getting far too much of the ground in the image. The path here behind Elle isn’t awful, and doesn’t distract. But it’s the colors behind her which helps make this image pop, complementing the colors of her clothing.

So let’s look at a series of three images, shot while I was standing up, kneeling down, and finally, laying flat on the ground. Notice how the background changes as my perspective changes.

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destination wedding photographer Aruba

photographing a couple – posing and composition

Re-editing and re-vamping photographs for my blog post of a destination wedding in Aruba, I found it enlightening to realize how much my style has progressed over years in post-processing too.

As part of destination wedding photography coverage, I offer extended photo sessions around the exotic locale after (or before) the wedding date. While we’re there, we may as well use the opportunity.

The photograph at the top was taken on the day after the wedding when we took a rented car and drove around the arid areas of the island – away from the touristy parts. There was a short rainstorm while we were driving, and the landscape looked really crisp. Offsetting the couple against this landscape just seemed like a great idea. I posed them into the light. I had various compositions of this, but liked the off-center image the most.

In this way, for any single setup, I always shoot wide & tight; vertical & horizontal; high & low viewpoints. This way I get a variety of images, and in the culling process later on, I can pick the few that work, or give me the most variety.

But there’s usually more than just one photograph …

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photography composition: working toward the final image

When I first immersed myself in photography way way back, it took me a while to realize that what I see in a magazine or book, isn’t necessarily the first image. Those incredible images that can inspire us, (or even make us just want to give up photography), most often are not fully-formed masterpieces. Most often, the photograph that we as the viewer are presented with, are but one of a series. One photograph that stood out, or where the elements in the photograph were controlled by the photographer. And even with the work of hardcore photo-journalists, what we see, have been “controlled” and “adjusted”, even if only in terms of lens choice and composition.

With that realization, I felt less intimidated by the great photographs that I saw. They had become more accessible in a way, and more attainable to me as a new photographer.

Photographs with impact or appeal could come to be because of serendipity or foresight and careful planning by the photographer. Quite often it’s just recognizing the potential of a scene, and working with it to finesse the elements, such as the composition or lighting or, with portraits, the pose.

So it is with this photograph of Jessica Joy, taken just before we started the photo-shoot mentioned in the article, colored gels with flash photography. The final result shown here, is a little bit of everything – a wonderful subject, an opportunity, and then over the course of several photographs, finessing it.

While I really like this image, and think of this as the final image that I want to present, it didn’t just “happen” as the first and only image. There was an entire sequence leading up to it. It is this first recognition of a potentially good photograph, and then the thought-process in the sequence, that I want to show here.

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composition for full-length portraits – step back instead of zooming wide

A comment in the article on a simple lighting setup for the family formal photos, asked why I recommended that a photographer should step back rather than zoom wide when photographing a group. The reason is that the perspective distortion that a wide-angle lens will give to your subject, is not all that flattering.

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eliminate & simplify – the first steps in photography composition

These two images were taken from more or less the same spot.
All that changed was my vantage point, and my choice of lens.

This vibrant park in Manhattan seemed like an interesting place to photograph, but when photographing a couple, I really want the accent to be on them. The best way to do this is to frame them so that the background is as simple as possible, but still complements the final photograph. I had the couple sit on top of this grassy mound, and I lay down on the grass, and framed them tightly against the trees in the background.

Even though I was working with a 70-200mm f2.8 lens, I was shooting around 90mm in focal length. But this was enough, coupled with my low viewpoint, to eliminate any distracting elements from the frame. It is essential to look at the edges of the frame when you compose. And that is the key here in the composition – simplicity.

Working with a telephoto zoom such as the 70-200mm f2.8 makes this much easier of course.

Now, people also naturally have the tendency to stand with their backs against a wall or against something when they pose for a photograph. As photographers, there is the temptation when posing a couple to always pose them directly against a background of some kind.

A neat and effective trick is to have your subjects stand well clear of the background. This can allow you to move your own position, and get a varied background. For example, with these two photographs from a sequence, we used some artwork by painters as a background. But we stood well away from it on the edge of the sidewalk. (I was cautiously in the middle of the road!) This allowed me to move to either side, and get images which look quite different, even though the couple didn’t move much between the two images chosen out of this sequence.

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